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Norwalk neighbors demand answers on ConnDOT’s Manresa proposal

The Manresa Island power plant, as seen from Village Creek. (Nora Niedzielski-Eichner)

Ospreys on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

NORWALK, Conn. — Noise pollution, damage to wildlife, and a surge in traffic are among the concerns a group of Norwalk neighbors express in opposition to a Connecticut Department of Transportation plan to use Manresa Island as a staging area for construction of major Walk Bridge components. And while the ConnDOT says preliminary studies have produced positive results, neighbors say their complaints don’t seem to be gaining traction with the state.

Five neighborhood associations met recently with ConnDOT and Norwalk officials for a virtual information session organized by State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25). Their intention, according to Nora Niedzielski-Eichner of the Village Creek Association, was to make their elected leaders “really push the state to be far more transparent and responsive than they have so far. We certainly didn’t feel like at the end of the hour that all of our questions have been answered by a longshot.”

The associations are coordinating to elevate their concerns in the public’s consciousness, representatives say.

ConnDOT has been working for years toward replacing the aged railroad bridge over the Norwalk River, referred to as the “Walk Bridge.” Although ConnDOT has been publicly saying it will use properties at 68 and 90 North Water St. for construction, it now intends to build the lift spans on barges off Manresa.

A slide from the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s PowerPoint presentation regarding Manresa Island.

“If we use the Manresa Island location, we can avoid the additional dredging and construction of a bulkhead at the Water Street location,” ConnDOT project manager John Hanifin said at a June 16 public hearing, held online. “There are many advantages by doing that, because the existing Manresa site has the current infrastructure already in place.”

Representatives from Shore Front Park, Harbor View, Harbor Shores, Wilson Point and Village Creek were on the phone for a June 30 follow-up information session, Niedzielski-Eichner said, describing three major takeaways:

  • “They really have not considered any site outside of Norwalk Harbor.”
  • “They have not conducted a (full) traffic study.”
  • “They have not conducted a noise study.”

 

“I was very dismayed by the DOT lack of professionalism in identifying and mitigating all of the potential impacts of reopening a long dormant, mothballed power plant for use as an industrial steel fabrication site,” Wilson Point Property Owners Association President Mitch Palais said in an email.

A mink on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

“All of the preliminary traffic, noise, and environmental screenings have come back positive.  The Department re-evaluated the Manresa option at the recommendation of the city commissions,” ConnDOT spokesperson Judd Everhart said in an email.

Mayor Harry Rilling attended the session but cautioned that it’s not the City’s decision, Niedzielski-Eichner said. Common Council members were there and State Reps. Travis Simms (D-140) and Chris Perone (D-137) were invited.

Only one of the Norwalk leaders who attended or were invited replied to an email from NancyOnNorwalk.

“I am absolutely concerned about the use of Manresa to stage the construction of the Walk Bridge.  This is a very difficult puzzle to solve,” Common Council member Lisa Shanahan (D-District E) said.

 

Why not find another site?

ConnDOT has been “clear all along” that it’s building the bridge elsewhere and then floating it to the site adjacent to the Maritime Aquarium, but when pressed by the neighborhood groups, the state “provided no information about additional costs to transport further,” Niedzielski-Eichner said.

An eagle on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

“For as many years as they’ve spent planning this project, they’ve given very little thought” to trying not to interfere with the very active Norwalk Harbor, she said.  “I understand why people don’t want this to be built across the street from a brand-new housing community. I understand why Water Street, as a business district, is not an ideal location either. But it seems prudent for them to look places that aren’t in the middle of any kind of residential communities.”

All you have to do is drive north on Interstate 95 and you can easily see waterfront industrial areas and shipyards that are isolated from residents by the highway, she said.

Everhart said ConnDOT “has evaluated multiple options for construction of the lift spans,” and this was discussed with the residents.

“If possible, sites closer to the bridge are desirable since transportation costs to the site and quality control when assembled at a remote location can be significant,” Everhart wrote. “The utilization of the proposed Water Street property would require dredging, the construction of a $6-$8 million bulkhead, and the construction would be close to the navigation channel.  The Manresa facility has an existing industrial dock in place, requires no dredging, and is approximately ½ mile from the closest residential community.”

 

 

Lists of issues

Palais, the Wilson Point leader, said in an email that ConnDOT “has pushed the revised fabrication site through with little real investigation of:

  • “Traffic impacts getting to/from Manresa site
  • “Full Environmental impacts- no testing done of potentially disturbed sea bed for contaminates that could be spread; potential overwash in a coastal storm, impacts to deer tick, fragile environmental species, coastal erosion etc
  • “Noise mitigation- the dot used sound over land numbers and not sound over water which will have a serious impact on the neighborhood I represent. Very concerning that they would do this.
  • “Light pollution impact on surrounding communities
  • “Hours of operation- the dot verbally agreed to limit hours to single shift 7 am to 330pm m-f – but I have little faith they will honor this.
  • “Diminution of property values”

 

 

Jennifer Butler sent this statement on behalf Harbor View residents:

“Harbor View is a community of 105 homes whose entrance is located just past the decommissioned NRG Power Plant where the CT DOT is proposing to stage the construction of the Walk Bridge. Harborview and NRG have enjoyed a history of good neighborship on this peninsula. The residents of Harbor View were recently polled about the CT DOT using this decommissioned site as a staging ground for the Walk Bridge, the community’s top 4 concerns around this potential construction are listed below in the following order:

  1. “Concern for the larger human-created environmental issues surrounding the site itself:  The Manresa site contains Coal Ash. 71% of Harbor View are most interested in this site being properly remediated before construction of any kind is done on this site.
  2. “Concerns for increased traffic on the one route on and off the peninsula.  Large trucks would disrupt not only the day to day activity on Longshore Drive, but simultaneously create a bottleneck with Harborview’s neighbors on Woodward Avenue, Water Street, and Route 136. All of which are the main roads in the area.
  3. “Concerns for Wildlife, Sea Life, and Bird life on/around the peninsula.  Essentially the Manresa site has been used by humans in a very limited capacity for the past 10 years. As a result, wildlife has moved in and thrived. This proposed project would not only disrupt wildlife that has made their way back from the endangered species list: Bald Eagles, Osprey, Mink, as well as Diamondback Terrapin. but the construction would drive residing wildlife to neighboring areas. The Deer on site and surrounding areas are currently being studied by CT DEEP AND CAES for the Lone Star Tick infestation. ( See:  https://www.courant.com/politics/hc-news-lone-star-tick-arrives-20170920-story.html)
  4. “Sound of the proposed construction as the sound carries and amplifies over water exponentially.”

 

 

‘We do not need a parade of extra cars and trucks’

Woodward Avenue is already overburdened, Niedzielski-Eichner said, calling additional traffic “an overload given that the road is already overloaded.”

A turtle just outside of NRG’s fenced in property. (Tom Clark)

Katherine Snedeker, a longtime resident of the area, agreed.

“I have driven down Woodward Avenue multiple times a day, every day for the last 28 years,” she wrote. “While a thoroughfare for Village Creek and Harborview, Woodward Avenue is a gathering place for children, families, seniors, dog walkers and kids in strollers for the residents of Harbor Shores. From Yost Street to well past Sheridan Street, Woodward Avenue is a place to adults to stroll, children to ride bikes, and pets to exercise. The destination is usually Woodward Avenue Park with soccer fields, tennis courts and a large playground which service this community as well as those around the Yellow Store.”

She continued:

“There are also multiple official and unofficial school bus stops along Woodward Avenue with parents waiting in cars and on foot for children as well as other bus stops where small children exit buses on their own and must cross the street to get home. We do not have any crossing guards. There are city bus stops as well as trucks coming and 18 wheelers going from the commercial properties on Woodward.

Wildlife on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

“Woodward Avenue does not need any more traffic as it is already a cross-section large city buses and truck traffic and that is it the last street for those hurrying to VC and HB in contrast to residents enjoying a walk in their own neighborhood street. The issue of speeding cars has resulted in a number of near accidents with children riding bikes to several car accidents (one where a commercial van T-boned me in 2010 on Sable and Woodward after he ran a stop sign to enter Woodward).

“We do not need a parade of extra cars and trucks on Woodward and I have not seen anyone counting traffic or any mechanism laid across the road to determine the traffic in this very sensitive area. I believe the planners used data from Meadow Street or another location and did not factor in the effect on this community.”

 

Everhart responded, “Increased traffic impacts as discussed with the residents are anticipated to be minimal.  We are planning on 20 employees reporting to the staging site; average contractor truck traffic is anticipated to be one truck per day during normal operations and 3 trucks per day during the peak construction period.”

 

 

 

‘Slew’ of environmental concerns

Wildlife right outside the power plant. (Tom Clark)

Another area resident, speaking for herself, had equity concerns.

“The burden of air pollution is not evenly shared,” Caroline Ward wrote. “Much research has been done to back up the fact that minorities, on average, face higher exposure to poorer air quality.  People of color in the American north-east are living with 66% more air pollution from vehicles than white residents are, according to an analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).  Woodward Avenue and South Norwalk are Norwalk’s industrial area so its citizens are already exposed to more industrial and vehicle air pollution than the rest of Norwalk.  Are we going to dump even further industrial and air pollution on the residents of (what I believe are) Norwalk’s most racially diverse neighborhoods?”

“I am concerned about the long-term disruption to the lives of many Norwalk residents, especially concerning noise and increased traffic, and especially since many of these residents have often found themselves subject to unsafe and unhealthy living conditions the due to the legacy of discriminatory zoning in South Norwalk,” wrote Board of Education member Colin Hosten, Village Creek Homeowners Association Vice President.

“We have a whole slew of environmental concerns… presumably, those studies will be conducted. But again, you know, they’re offering us assurances that ‘everything we’re going to do is going to comply with the environmental requirements,’ but no studies have been posted online,” Niedzielski-Eichner said. “You know, we were given a 14-day comment period on basically a webinar, which is crazy…. It’s been in the work for years and they want community sign off in 14 days on a big change that in fact impacts hundreds of houses.”

Wildlife on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

Everhart said, “The Department has received all of the questions received during the public comment period which ended on July 3, and is in the process of responding.”

ConnDOT submitted its revised permit application, seeking to use Manresa Island in the Walk Bridge project, to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) before the comment period was over.

The feedback and questions submitted in the public hearing “did not reveal new information or challenges that were not already being addressed through our coordination with the various regulatory agencies,” ConnDOT Director of Communications Kevin Nursick said on June 30.

 

 

Shanahan: A ‘serious impact’

Niedzielski-Eichner did not mention District B Council members Darlene Young and Ernie Dumas. NancyOnNorwalk could not reach Young on Tuesday evening; Dumas said he was not aware of a meeting held June 30 to discuss Manresa.

I don’t agree with that at all, we don’t need all those trucks and everything going down Woodward Avenue,” Dumas said. ConnDOT is “doing whatever they want and that’s the bottom line.”

“There is no doubt that the Walk Bridge must be replaced from a safety and a modernization of infrastructure basis.  These tracks are essential to the East Coast’s rail transportation network,” Shanahan wrote. “That said, this project brings with it serious impact to Norwalk neighborhoods and to our fragile waterfront environmental habitat.”

ConnDOT’s revised plan only came to her and Council member Tom Livingston (D-District E) “a short time ago,” she said.

Livingston did not reply to an email asking for his thoughts.

Shanahan wrote:

Wildlife on Manresa Island. (Tom Clark)

“We both would like to see CT DOT do a traffic study to make sure that Woodward Ave can handle the expected increase in traffic, to do a sound study to make sure that the residents of Village Creek and Harbor View won’t be unduly disturbed by construction noise, and to assure all Norwalk residents that our fragile eco-system will be protected against major impacts from the construction including the release of toxins that are currently embedded on Manresa Island, heavy metals that sit on the floor of the seabed, and disruption of habitat for our seabirds (including eagles, ospreys and shorebirds), the terrapins, and fish life.  Consideration of other construction sites on our shore line that include existing industrial sites ought to be explored before determining that Manresa is the best site.  We would like to know what other sites CT DOT has considered.

“We are also concerned with the suggested alternative use of the Norwalk Harbor site in South Norwalk in the Water Street area.  This choice would also impact a residential neighborhood, have a potential adverse environmental impact (especially on our shell fish industry) and might also disrupt important shipping lines in our Harbor.

“I think that all of our neighborhoods would better accept the proposed project if we were to be convinced that appropriate impact studies have been done (including traffic and noise studies), and that  industrial site alternatives have been explored so that we can understand why those sites have not been chosen.  We feel that this process has been rushed and that there is more work for CT DOT to do to convince us that Manresa Island is the best site to stage this essential infrastructure project.”

13 comments

SONO citizen July 22, 2020 at 8:13 am

While I understand the need to keep costs down, the Manresa location would be at the cost of quality of life for SONO citizens, in that area. If this project were to occur in Silvermine, Cranbury, West Norwalk or Rowayton, no one would even consider bringing the proposal forward. This needs to be said and considered.

Bryan Meek July 22, 2020 at 8:34 am

Wasn’t this project already fully vetted 3 years ago. Isn’t that why they had to steal land from businesses in East Norwalk? Now they need to steal more land in South Norwalk? For 150 year old technology in an age where driverless cars and trucks are going to render the railroads obsolete?

This is the same DOT that has taken 11 years and counting to build a guard rail on the Merritt from Stamford to Fairfield and a few overpasses.

The same DOT that took 2 years to build the intersection at East Ave and Westport Ave.

The same DOT who still can’t figure out how to make US1 more than two lanes in the most heavily traveled corridor in the country.

The same DOT who 20 years later still can’t figure out how to finish the Rt 7 / Merritt exits so that people don’t have to cut through Norwalk to get from 15 to 95.

Occasionally, this DOT gets it right like the exit 9 overpass in Stamford, but thats not the crew we get in Norwalk.

In Norwalk, thanks to Duff and Rilling, the DOT gets to do whatever they want to us, whenever they want.

A true leader would have told DOT to go pound sand for doing simultaneous construction on every single one of our major river crossings at the same exact time. But here we just get more apartments to go along with it.

Concerned Taxpayer July 22, 2020 at 9:54 pm

“Mayor Harry Rilling attended the session but cautioned that it’s not the City’s decision“

fran underhill July 22, 2020 at 10:38 pm

So what do city officials say about this dot proposal? Agree or disagree? How is Norwalk represented by the professionals we pay to mitigate and manage this ask?

Mitch Palais July 23, 2020 at 7:35 am

Re city approvals- if the power plant sits in a residential zone, and the special use permit Was required for a power plant- it would then follow that this use As an industrial construction site would have to receive city approvals.

Accordingly- our mayor could veto the Whole idea.

Jeff July 23, 2020 at 2:18 pm

A few of you have summed it up correctly, the ones who should have the most questions and the loudest voices are either hands off (Rilling) or silent (Duff). Duff apparently organized this virtual information session but doesn’t have one thing to say about it? Is he staying silent on this as a favor for someone else in Hartford? Rilling can absolutely put the lid on this. He can be active and vocal about everything else in Norwalk but he can’t get involved when 5 (!) neighborhood associations organize with each other and voice their concerns? Step up Rilling and represent the people who voted you in!

I don’t live in any of these neighborhoods but agree with them 100%. ConnDOT hasn’t done the proper investigation, otherwise they would come to the conclusion Manresa is not the best site for this. I’m not trying to push this off to other cities but places like Bridgeport and New Haven (maybe even Stamford down by O&G?) have all sorts of industrial sites on the water that currently support this type of activity and wouldn’t disturb wildlife and residential quality of life like the Manresa site would. I don’t believe ConnDOT for a second when they say 1 truck during normal operations and 3 during peak. What are the penalties for more than this? How long is peak? Years? Only 20 employees working on this? I doubt that. 7-3:30 M-F? Not a chance. What happens when they’re behind schedule and need to catch up? That will happen as all their projects do.

Lastly, could there be an uglier bridge going in? Who designed this eyesore? With all the money involved, and all the great design around the world, you would think they could come up with something a little nicer looking. If they can’t do 1 or 2 sections that rotate or go up like on 136 then maybe they could at least make it look nicer like this one:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvmBNm2fUoE
5 minutes on google gave me a nicer looking bridge than the years of “design” they spent on this one.

Disappointing on all fronts. Lack of leadership, transparency, due diligence, truth and design. Why do people keep voting these knuckleheads in?!

Peter Franz July 23, 2020 at 9:23 pm

No one is asking the right question.

From the commissioned Fitzgerald and Halliway Report on Manresa as reported in Nancy on Norwalk in 2019:

“The northern parcel is largely constructed of fill material and coal ash. Because of this substrate, contamination and surrounding wetlands and estuary areas, this parcel is not feasible for development”

The State of Connecticut has allowed first Connecticut Light & Power, then NRG Energy to treat the town of Norwalk’s 144 acres of prime waterfront land as if it was Chernobyl.

This Chernobyl Treatment is as appalling as it sounds. Norwalk has allowed the state to turn this beautiful land into wasteland, with zero impunity. Where is the state’s clean up plan? Where are the criminal charges against those who let this happen? Where are the town’s legal defenses against this kind of abuse? No single administration “owns” this, it’s decades of our own complacency.

Fight all you want over states vs. city rights, but we together should be appalled we are allowing this property to be so abused.

Shame on all of us.

Turd Fergusen July 24, 2020 at 2:12 pm

What is NRG getting out of this? Presumably the Walk Bridge isn’t getting to use their land for free. What’s the payoff? Tax breaks? Where is taxpayer money being stolen from this time?

Carole July 24, 2020 at 2:33 pm

We are being railroaded. Pun intended. As a resident of South Norwalk, I demand that our city demand that the DOT do their due diligence and perform the necessary studies as to the environmental impacts of using Manressa Island as the building site for the Walk Bridge. There have been no adequate noise, traffic or light studies to show impact in our area. Residents have been after the city and NRG to clean up this incredible waterfront acreage for years. What is the city getting out of this, to agree to use it? 5 years from now it will be an even dirtier and less used environmental disaster. At least make the state clean it up and leave it as open space for all to enjoy when it is done!

Robert Kunkel July 25, 2020 at 12:52 pm

The Walk Bridge project was identified as a difficult problem by the Norwalk Harbor Keeper earky on in irs development and nobody listened to the environmental and economuc issues we raised.

All of this can be solved with the right experts and marine engineers involved. Same story as COVID- science or politics.

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